Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Twilio’s New Queue Command Offers Hope to Those in the On-Hold Wasteland

Raise your hand if you’re familiar with this experience: You’re on the phone with some company you do business with, and you’re on hold. An annoying voice tells you the wait time is going to be 15 minutes or more. You’ve entered your account number and ignored the option to oprima numero dos in the event you’re a Spanish speaker. And you wait, and wait and wait. When you finally get to a human, they don’t know your account number so you have to tell them again. If it’s a repeat call on something you’ve already called about, they don’t know that, either.

Wouldn’t it be nice, for example, if, while you were on hold, that otherwise pointless disembodied voice greeted you by name, reassured you that you’re going to be connected to someone who knows exactly what your problem is and how to deal with it, and that it will only be a few more minutes because there is only one more person ahead of you?

If that sounds like some kind of utopian vision for the otherwise infuriating world of automated phone support, it’s not that far from reality. Remember Twilio? This is the company that lets you program your own phone system. It’s the one that makes all its employees create their own application as a way of making everyone familiar with the platform and also showing how easy it is to use.

So yesterday the company announced on its blog a new feature. The wonky software engineer word for it is a “primitive,” which means it’s a deeply fundamental command in an API. Whatever. The command is “Queue,” and what it does is allow companies using Twilio to program their own logical flow for managing people waiting on hold.

For instance, you might decide that when a customer calls in a second or third time within a certain period of time, that they’re having a serious problem. Since presumably you know their phone number from Caller ID, you might route their call directly to the guy who helped them before. Need to get someone else on the phone to help out? It’s easy to bridge the call and bring someone else in.

It’s the sort of thing that, when used creatively, can potentially speed up an otherwise unpleasant, time-consuming and costly process. When you get right down to it, no one on either side of the call really wants to be there, right?

I had a quick chat with Thomas Schiavone, product manager for voice at Twilio, earlier this week. He told me companies using Twilio had already been trying to do some of this using the existing commands in the API. Adding the new Queue command makes it easier, and requires fewer steps to get those things accomplished. “You could have built applications that do all this previously,” he told me. “But we’re making it easier for the developers so they have to do less.”

It’s just another example of how Twilio has been busy this year. In recent months, it has been adding support for international markets in Europe and also Israel. It has also been hiring new senior execs at a fair clip: A CFO in May and before that a CMO in April. Lots of interesting customers, too, including Intuit, eBay and Sony.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik